Durham, North Carolina, to New York City, September 1, 2014

★★★ Mist gathered on the windshield of the car and trickled up it in the darkness. The wipers swept it clear and it accumulated again. Orion and Sirius were up in the sky. Off to the left, down low, the sky was beginning to lighten. It grew brighter on one side of the air terminal, ever-lighter blue streaked with lilac. The lilac turned bright pink, then pale pink. Beyond the parking garage, swirls of orange and purple were forming. Out the water-streaked window of the shabby old regional jet, white edges started to show. The plane taxied past what looked like the previous night’s unused plane, then cleared the end of the building, and the sun itself came into view. It had an unpleasant brown tint to it. The engines pushed; the condensation streamed away; the plane rose. Pines receded in a blurry haze. The raw pink earth of a nascent subdivision passed below. Now the sky around was striated in Greek-restaurant blues and whites. Far away to the east were near-vertical cumulus formations, towers or sugarloaf mountains. The sun was clean white and warm against the cold unchecked blasts from the broken overhead air conditioner valve. A pebbly layer of clouds slid under the plane, and then a lumpy thick one, a landscape of unreal hills, cliffs, a river delta. And past that, in the far middle distance: a whole metropolis, a Manhattan of blocky phantom buildings crowded together, stretching on and on. It lasted till the plane banked and descended through blank gray, then on through layers on layers of clouds, a napoleon of light and shadow, till there was a glimpse of solid prosaic cul-de-sac landscape below. Then there were city roofs, rectangles shining within rectangles, and waters speckled with sailboats, and then as the silhouette of the plane crossed an apartment tower, the distant hazy outline of the actual Manhattan. From the ground, the only sign of the extravagances overhead was one ragged ivory mass, under mundane-looking cirrus. The deep freeze of the M60 bus opened out onto a hot stench of garbage. The morning streets were quiet. A white pigeon, flecked with a few spots of black, strolled on the bricks outside the apartment building. By midday more clouds had gathered. The two-year-old was a little disheveled in his swing on the playground. In the Gray’s Papaya it was stifling enough to raise a sweat. The clouds kept moving through the afternoon, piling up, turning lovely purples and golds by dinnertime, as the seven-year-old spotted rocket ships and passengers in their shapes. Out in the dusk, an airplane flying medium-high over Amsterdam Avenue clipped the bottom of one low cloud and for a moment its shape grew indistinct, while its lights solidified into a yellow fan. A moon just shy of the first quarter stood above the ballet theater as Eugene Onegin played on the screen on the opera house, to an audience completely filling the plaza. Body odor wafted from the seats. The seven-year-old stood to the side and ate gelato and listened to the music; the two-year-old ate gelato and looked at the screen and pointed out when an airplane passed.